How to use the SharePoint Lookbook

How to use the SharePoint Lookbook

Modern SharePoint is an extremely flexible tool that can meet multiple use cases to support communication and collaboration inside an organisation. This means intranet teams and site owners have a lot of choice in how they structure and design individual sites and pages. Recognising this, Microsoft has created the SharePoint Lookbook, a collection of site templates and designs that can be viewed and then actually deployed on to your SharePoint tenant. The Lookbook is an extremely useful resource that both provides inspiration and a way to give teams a head start in setting up a site.

In this post we’re going to explore what the SharePoint Lookbook is, why it is useful, the kind of templates it contains, and what to consider when using it.

The flexibility of SharePoint

One of the strengths of SharePoint is its flexibility and versatility to support multiple use cases, usually as part of a wider intranet. A strategy page for leadership communications, a departmental site for the sales function, a site for onboarding employees, a place for your volunteering community to come together. All these and more can be achieved using modern SharePoint.

One of the reasons for this flexibility is the ability to add, arrange and configure multiple web parts – the basic “building blocks” of SharePoint – on any given site and page. This means you can have multiple combinations on a page to create different experiences that meet various needs. It also gives intranet teams and individual site owners a lot of choice in how they design and structure individual sites, which are either standalone or sit within a wider intranet structure.

Of course, design flexibility has limits unless a site is customised, retaining some of the standard look and feel of modern SharePoint. While this means it’s not always possible to meet all design and branding needs, in our view this is generally not a problem, as modern SharePoint has an attractive, intuitive and consistent interface.

This flexibility can leave some teams wondering what the best structure and design is for their site. This is where the SharePoint Lookbook can act as a useful resource for both reference and deployment.


What is the SharePoint LookBook?

The SharePoint LookBook is a publicly available site provided by Microsoft that can be reached at  As Microsoft itself describes it, it provides an opportunity to “discover the modern experiences you can build with SharePoint in Microsoft 365” and to “get inspired with these designs or add them to your tenant to start building your next stunning site with them.”

Within the Lookbook there is a gallery of SharePoint templates divided into different categories. You can explore the themes and view each template in more detail. As well as the showing the design on the page, the Lookbook contains template-specific information on site features, web parts used and content included.

There is then a call to action for administrators to deploy a Lookbook template to their tenant, an automated process which takes minutes, as long as an administrator has the necessary rights and your tenant meets the minimum system requirements.


What type of templates are available in the SharePoint Lookbook?

The Lookbook is divided into a number of different browsable categories that explore a wide range of useful use cases. However, the differences between some of the categories are pretty narrow, so it’s worth taking a look through the entire library of templates.

Current categories are:

  • Organisation: covering key organisation-wide types of communication site including initiatives for leadership communications, crisis comms, a news centre, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and more.
  • Department: examples of department-specific sites or hub covering areas such as sales, HR, training, marketing and even a key conference.
  • Team: this covers team-specific sites for four different use cases covering a project, a collaboration need, a product team and general team communication.
  • Community: this covers two examples of a community site, one being a brand and resources site, and another relating to a charity or CST initiative.
  • Solutions: templates for a range of useful business scenarios including providing Microsoft learning resources, employee onboarding, pre-boarding for new hires, workplace transformation, dealing with a freelance community and more.
  • Schools: templates for schools and colleges.
  • SharePoint Syntex: two templates covering key Syntex user cases including contracts management and promoting the use of Syntex inside your organisation.


What are the benefits of using a SharePoint Lookbook template?

There are a number of benefits in using templates from the SharePoint Lookbook.

Providing inspiration

As already noted, SharePoint is highly flexible and sometimes it is hard to know where to start when designing a site. The Lookbook is an excellent place to start because it provides tangible and achievable examples of site designs across multiple use cases and scenarios. If you need a place to simulate ideas and provide inspiration, then the SharePoint Lookbook is a great starting point.

Increasing speed to market

Using a Lookbook template gives any site owners a huge head start in providing a template that can be deployed in minutes and then modified to suit your needs. It can significantly reduce the “speed to market” if you need to get a site up and running quickly.

Supporting new and busy site owners

Site owners for many areas of an intranet (or for specific intranet sites) can lack confidence in using SharePoint or can be very time-stretched. They are unlikely to be trained communicators. The head start given by a Lookbook can support confidence and resourcing.

Encouraging good use cases and adoption

Lookbook templates reflect good practices and showcase the best of what SharePoint has to offer. They demonstrate the art of the possible and also highlight the range of different web parts that can be deployed. Using templates can help encourage using SharePoint for some use cases that might not have been considered, and generally support adoption from potential site owners across an organisation.

No costs involved

The use of the SharePoint Lookbook is completely free so does not come at any additional cost on top of your normal Microsoft 365 subscription.


Things to consider when using the SharePoint Lookbook

However, there are some considerations in using the SharePoint Lookbook and its templates.

A template is not a finished site

A Lookbook template is not going to be complete. It will likely need more work on it to truly optimise it to meet a particular business need within your organisation. For example, it might be missing a particular web part. However, site owners might consider a site “complete” because it is a Microsoft template and therefore reflecting best practices. It is likely that content owners still need additional guidance and support from the central intranet or communications team to complete a site.

Still needs to fit in with your Information Architecture and security

A deployed template site also needs to fit into your existing Information Architecture and align with your security policies, so any site generated from the Lookbook will need further configuration.

Might bypass governance processes

Many intranet, communication and digital workplace teams want to establish governance about the use of SharePoint sites to deliver business value, minimise duplication, ensure adherence to standards and support alignment with a content strategy. This often means having some kind of approval workflow on site provisioning to stop site proliferation.

Automatically deploying a template on your tenant could bypass provisioning and other governance processes, particularly if your IT function carries out SharePoint administration duties but has a different view on site creation to the intranet team. For example, it can encourage the creation of a lot of standalone sites that can start to get out of control leading to problems with findability.

Not aligning with custom branding

Some organisations want to establish specific designs for their digital workplace or intranet so choose to deploy custom branding or use an “in a box” product that extends the design options of SharePoint. A Lookbook template will not align with that branding.


Getting the best out of the SharePoint Lookbook

In our view the SharePoint Lookbook is an excellent resource that used properly can help save time, and encourage the best use of SharePoint.

However, to get the best out of the templates in SharePoint Lookbook there are other things you need to consider. We regularly help intranet and digital workplace teams in certain areas.

1. Strategy

Defining a digital workplace and intranet strategy, or a related content strategy, that can help define the use cases (and therefore templates) you’ll need in your SharePoint tenant.

2. Design

Helping establish the best design for sites, that can potentially leverage the site and page templates contained in the Lookbook.

3. Additional web parts

Providing the additional web parts that you need to add to Lookbook templates in order to drive business value. Sometimes these are completely custom, or are provided as part of our Lightspeed Modules package, a collection of high value web parts that fill many of the gaps in SharePoint.

4. Information architecture

We can help you design your information architecture to ensure sites created by Lookbook templates are truly findable.

Need help? Get in touch!

If you’d like help in using the SharePoint Lookbook and design, or want to discuss other aspects of your Microsoft 365 powered digital workplace, then get in touch!

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What are SharePoint web parts and how do I use them?

Web parts are one of the core elements of SharePoint and therefore of any intranet built on SharePoint. They are the basic building blocks that make up the different sites within SharePoint; every page can be broken down into a series of different web parts. If you are creating an intranet based on SharePoint or even just contributing content to it, it really helps to have an understanding of what web parts are and the kind of web parts that you can deploy to deliver your overall content and experience.

In this article we’re going to take a deep dive into SharePoint web parts. We’re going to cover what they are, the different kinds of web parts there are, what a custom web part is and the kind of value that custom web parts can bring to a SharePoint Internet.

What are web parts in SharePoint?

Web parts can be defined as the basic components of SharePoint. Microsoft themselves describe them as “the building blocks of your page” with the ability to “add text, images, files, video, dynamic content and more.”  

Web parts are a significant part of the editing experience in SharePoint. Web parts can be arranged in different ways on a page. Content editors in SharePoint modern can also add new web parts, selecting from a number of web parts that come as standard with the platform.

Web parts can display SharePoint content but can also integrate feeds from other Microsoft 365 tools including Viva Engage / Yammer and Viva Connections.  Each web part also has extensive configuration options around elements such as what to display or link to, how items are sorted or filtered, and how they are displayed.  The combination of the sheer number of web parts and configuration options is one of the factors which enables SharePoint to be a highly flexible tool that can be used across multiple use cases.

What kind of SharePoint web parts are there?

There are currently around fifty SharePoint web parts that are available out of the box. These include everything from the ability to format calls to action or featuring a Power BI report to embedding a video or even a world clock. There isn’t enough space here to go into all the web parts that are available, but some of the most popular include:

  • Connectors: provides options to bring in different feeds from external services based on the connectors available.
  • Document library: displays a SharePoint document library.
  • Events: displays upcoming events with the ability to click through for more information for each event.
  • File viewer: the ability to embed a file such as a Word or PDF document to read within a page.
  • Hero: displays up to five items at the top of a page, usually on a home or landing page.
  • Highlighted content: a flexible web part that displays a dynamically generated list of content based on its type such as documents, videos or images, and other salient criteria.
  • List: displays a SharePoint list, again another very flexible way to display and manage information.
  • Microsoft Forms: embeds a Microsoft Form, and can be used for forms, polls and surveys.
  • News: displays news items with different formatting options.
  • People: displays details of a selected group of people, such as a team or key contacts, with links to individual profiles.
  • Quick links: the ability to display quick links to other pages, apps, external sites and more.
  • Yammer (Viva Engage): embed a personalised Viva Engage / Yammer feed on a page, for example to support a community.

Standard web parts and gaps in functionality

Despite the high number of web parts and the ability to configure them, in practice there are still some gaps in functionality and features that can be particularly frustrating for intranet teams and internal communicators who want to deploy a high value SharePoint intranet or site with strong adoption.

Sometimes these “gaps” relate to branding and design options around the look and feel of a web part being limited or not quite right. At other times, it might be that there simply isn’t a web part available out of the box that delivers particular functionality. For example, a popular intranet feature that is not available in SharePoint out of the box is the ability for users to add their own personal links to frequently used apps that can then be displayed on an intranet home page.

Sometimes there also might be no web part available that delivers content from a different external system or application, where there might need to be an integration, and there is no current connector.

What are custom web parts?

When there is gap in functionality, organisations have the option to deploy a custom web part. A custom web part is one that has either been custom developed from scratch or has been modified from a standard SharePoint web part. A custom web part therefore can be considered to be any web part that is not supplied by Microsoft as standard and has involved some degree of additional coding. Custom web parts are often designed to give you functionality and features that is very specifically suited to delivering a great intranet experience.

Custom web parts tend to fall into two types:

  • Those developed specifically for the needs of an individual organisation.
  • Those provided more generically by intranet software vendors that fil the gaps in SharePoint.

Here at Content Formula, we produce both types, regularly creating specific custom web parts as part of an intranet build, but also now delivering a standard set of custom web parts as part of our Lightspeed Modules service.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of custom web parts?

Custom web parts both have advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, they complement SharePoint and complete the gaps, adding value by:

  • Enabling “classic” intranet features that have been overlooked by Microsoft in SharePoint when its used straight out of the box.
  • Supporting richer options for internal communicators.
  • Delivering more engaging and flexible design options.
  • Supporting additional integrations not supported by out-of-the-box connectors that drive a more connected digital workplace experience.
  • Supporting specific business processes and automation, helping raise productivity and efficiency

The disadvantages of custom web parts include the additional cost involved. If you choose to develop your own individual custom web parts then this will involve development resources and effort; however, if you choose to purchase customised web parts that have already been developed by a vendor, they will be considerably cheaper than developing your own, following the usual rules around “buy vs build”.

The other disadvantage comes with customisation in general. Most IT functions want to limit custom development as much as possible because they create technical debt, makes upgrades harder and can require ongoing management. However, buying additional custom web parts from a vendor that are completely managed removes this issue.

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Find out more about Lightspeed modules


How Lightspeed Modules adds most of the web parts you need

Content Formula’s Lightspeed Modules is a product from Content Formula that adds many of the custom web parts that you need for your intranet, effectively extending the value of SharePoint, and filling many of the gaps in functionality.  Lightspeed’s web parts are based on the work we’ve done across hundreds of projects over the years. These are easily added to your tenant and can then be added by your content editors just like all the other standard SharePoint web parts

Because intranet and internal communication teams now have a more complete set of web parts to support a SharePoint Online intranet, it can prove to be highly cost effective, because it reduces the need to purchase a more expensive “in-a-box”  intranet solution.

Examples of some of the most popular Lightspeed web parts include:

  • A page tour, highlighting key intranet features for new staff.
  • Branding customiser, extending branding and theming options for SharePoint.
  • Share price, allowing teams to embed a stock price on the homepage.
  • App launcher, allowing users to personalise their own links to apps.
  • Tabs, allowing multiple web parts to be displayed in a tabbing format to save page real-estate.
  • Table of content to appear at the top of a page to support findability for long-read content.
  • Site provisioning, to embed the provisioning process for different Microsoft collaboration sites including Teams.
  • External social feeds from different sources.
  • Floating search, providing the ability to add a contextual search anywhere on a page.
  • Feedback, allowing structured feedback on the intranet and its content from any page.
  • Welcome bar, for personalised welcome messages to users to create a more engaging experience.
  • Noticeboard, for employee classified adverts and notices.
  • And more!

Want to know more about web parts? Get in touch!

Web parts are one of the elements that make SharePoint such a valuable and flexible platform. If you want to know more about using web parts, or want more information on our Lightspeed Modules offering, then get in touch!

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What will the digital workplace of the future be like?

Predicting the future is always risky. We’ve all seen those hilarious retro-predictions of the future from decades ago that predict by 2023 we’ll be having holidays on the moon, personal robots doing our laundry and flying to work using jet-powered hover boots. So, making predictions does set you up for a fall.

But it can have some value. The current pace of change in the digital workplace is relentless and will be ever-increasing with the advance of generative AI and other innovations around the corner. In some ways the future of work is already here, and organisations need to keep an eye on what’s happening next to be ready for it and prioritise the right investments and interventions.

Scenario planning around a future vision for the digital workplace can be a great way to engage stakeholders to start the right conversations while also considering deeper strategies; it can help you to act now to build a better digital employee experience and seize competitive advantage.

The ever-evolving digital workplace

Changes in the digital workplace have been rapid over the last 15 to 20 years. We’ve seen the evolution of a digital workplace that is more mobile, social, personalised, integrated and immersive. At the same time there have been challenges where it feels progress has been slower, with some problems perennial and seemingly ingrained. These include findability, governance, user adoption, digital skills and more. So, while the technology, experience and toolset moves forward, the underlying challenges remain almost static, albeit relating to new circumstances.

In this post, we are going to explore some of the potential changes that we may see in the digital workplace and the accompanying digital employee experience over the next few years. However, we heavily caveat that these predictions may be wrong, so if you’re reading this post in 2033 and it’s wildly inaccurate, please don’t laugh! Technology and innovation continue to surprise us, which is one of the reasons we love working in this field.

Here’s our view on what the digital workplace of the future may be like.

1. More personalised

Any future digital workplace is likely to be more personalised around the individual user. Hyper-personalisation is the current direction of travel in our collective efforts to use data to present more relevant and effective digital workplaces, although often the theory is not proved by the execution.

Personalisation will likely be based around all the elements that shape it today such as role, location, and division, as well as user behaviour, individual preferences, membership of different groups and more. Machine learning should also help the system learn what content is likely to be of interest, both by taking into account user behaviour of the individual but also the collective behaviour and preferences of users with a similar profile. This should result in opportunities for laser-sharp content targeting but also the reduction of noise in content feeds.

The greater ability for users to also configure their digital workplace experience should mirror trends in the consumer space where the expectations of users is that an app or site knows them.

One critical factor in enabling this will be our ability to harness all the data that we have in a way that is more efficient and can navigate challenges around privacy and security, Technology providers should be aware of these constraints and provide necessary features for users to be able to control the use of the data.

The new hyper-personalised digital workplace should also provide multiple options of how the overall digital employee experience can be consumed with multiple front doors, for example through a browser, a mobile device, a desktop app or potentially even through an immersive experience like the Metaverse. Perhaps there will also be ways to navigate the digital workplace that are waiting to be discovered.

2. More intelligent

The new future digital workplace will also be more “intelligent” to help people work smarter, with capabilities intertwined with a more personalised experience, underpinned by Machine Learning. The digital workplace will be attuned to a user’s needs and be able to automatically configure experiences, deliver workflow, make content recommendations and issue nudges, that are relevant, timely, and valuable. This will be like having a highly effective digital assistant to help you through your working day, but instead of a single app, it will be one that is threaded through every application. It will also be predictive, anticipating things that you need or outlining different options to follow.

A more intelligent workplace should also deliver much better search and findability, again personalised to your experience. This is one area where the conversational UI found in a platform like ChatGPT could be the standard interface for finding sources, but also delivering answers to questions that are found within those sources.

3. More efficient

A more intelligent digital workplace should also be a more efficient workplace. It will help people get things done at scale, right across the organisation, supercharging productivity. We’re already seeing tantalising glimpses of what ChatGPT is capable of with the ability to understand and respond to detailed instructions.

What we can do in the future should help to eliminate repetitive and dull tasks; organising complicated meetings across time zones, constructing and delivering complicated workflows to order, booking flights and travel, generating a custom contract; all these are tasks that the future digital workplace should be able to help us with through advanced automation.

4. More accessible

We think that the future digital workplace will be more accessible for every user, wherever they happen to be. Greater support for the digital workplace on any device as well as the faster connectivity everywhere enabled by 5G and beyond should enable access for the entire workforce.

We would also hope that the future digital workplace will also be more accessible for people living with disabilities. Large tech providers have made progress in making tools more accessible, although we still have to long way to go for everything to comply with the WCAG 2.2 guidelines. However, we should expect there to be better accessibility threaded through the digital employee experience, especially with greater awareness of disabilities, some of which aren’t necessarily visible.

5. More immersive

You will undoubtedly will have read predications about the Metaverse and our ability to meet in 3D spaces using avatars, leveraging elements of virtual and augmented reality. This is certainly the direction of travel for some tech providers, and it seems likely that the future digital workplace will be more immersive. We may well be able to do that virtual presentation where we appear as a hologram on somebody’s desk or have “water cooler conversations” as avatars in exotic but virtual locations. More immersive experiences could also be applied to more conventional forms of communication such as video conferencing.

What remains to be seen is when (and quite possibly if) this will actually happen. There is currently a disconnect between the demand for these services and the importance placed on them by tech vendors. But as the demographic inside companies changes to a younger generation more used to gaming and as the technology itself progresses, the evolution of the Metaverse and associated experiences could happen more quicky than expected.

6. More environmentally friendly

To date, the environmental impact of the digital workplace has tended to be viewed in a positive light because of the reduction in carbon footprint it enables through eliminating the need to travel or our reliance on offices. But as the environmental crisis deepens and regulations around reporting become formalised, the impact on the environment of technology investments is going to start to be a factor in decision-making. For example, we know that data centres can have a significant negative impact.

Given all these pressures, we think that the digital workplace of the future will attempt to be more environmentally friendly, by at least being able to report on the impact. For example, could a user at the end of the day be able to tell exactly how much they have contributed to a carbon footprint through their technology use during that working day? It might be like a smart energy meter for the digital workplace. Having said this, a future digital workplace based on huge amounts of data and the Metaverse may require huge processing power, and that may mean a higher carbon footprint.

7. More complex for users

Of course, while all of the elements we’ve covered so far are positive, we think the future digital workplace will have more than a few issues.

The experience is likely to be more complex for users. There’s going to be more options around tools and more features within these, although what you can achieve with these tools will be greater. And with the pace of transformation increasingly exponential, there will be continual changes to these tools and features. The chance of information overload and being overwhelmed are high as digital workplace evolution outpaces the ability and time that users have to learn about new tools and how to actually use them.

Digital workplace teams have an important role in trying to enable a coordinated and consistent experience that avoids these issues, while also supporting digital literacy and increasing new digital skills. But that is going to be a big ask. We can already see this with ChatGPT which ideally needs user training on how to best interrogate it; the future digital workplace could get increasingly complex for everyone.

8. More challenging to manage

The future digital workplace is also going to be more challenging to manage. Besides more support for users, it will require more governance and foundational work to minimise risks and enable value. Digital workplace teams will also have their work cut out continually launching increasingly complex tools.

As separate teams and even individual users can create new apps and services, there will need to be guard rails in place around privacy, cyber security, intellectual property, wellbeing and ethics. Digital workplace teams are in a great position to make a huge contribution in this area, but we think managing the digital workplace will be far from straightforward.

Why it helps to think about the future digital workplace

Thinking about the digital workplace of the future is a worthwhile exercise.  It helps capture the imagination of senior stakeholders and gets them excited about the future potential. It can also help you to start making the right decisions in the present to enable the future digital workplace.

In considering the future digital workplace it makes sense to try and envisage what it looks like specifically for you and your employees. What kind of future experience do you want to achieve? What are the current pain points that you want to eliminate? Where are the areas that innovation will take place, for example in your manufacturing plant or across your customer service team? Considering these sorts of questions will help you develop your own vision for a future digital workplace.

If you’d like to discuss your future digital workplace, or your current one, then get in touch!

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Request a call back with one of our digital workplace experts, for a free consultation about your business.

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